When in Doubt, GO
"Sometimes keeping costs down can be a big mistake. I traveled through Afghanistan in the early seventies, and I missed the opportunity to go up to Bamiyan to see the Buddhas that would later be destroyed by the Taliban. Not enough time, not enough moneyI had lots of excuses, but now that opportunity is gone forever, and no amount of money can make up for that foolish economizing."
Travel writer and cofounder of Lonely Planet
Snagging a great value for your trip is a bit like angling for trout: When you head to the river is less important than how you fish it. Fortunately, ever-fluctuating supply and demand means there are always travel discounts to be had. A few smart tactics can land you a monster deal.
Compare fares on the big three Web outletsExpedia, Travelocity, and Orbitzas well as those posted on individual airline sites.
Sign up for free customized fare alerts for your hometown and for travel newsletters, like Tom Parson's Best Fares (www.bestfares.com), which lists daily specials and companion deals.
If the price of the advance ticket you purchased drops, call the airline and request a refund. Many will return or credit the difference.
For bulk discounts, canvass national carriers like Varig, which sells the Brazil AirPass (www.varig.com; five flight coupons for $530), Thai Airways (www.thaiairways.com; four tickets for $199), and Europe by Air (www.europebyair.com; its FlightPass goes between any of 150 European cities for $99 per segment).
Shop the no-frills airlines, like JetBlue (www.jetblue.com), Southwest (www.iflyswa.com), and Canada's WestJet (www.westjet.com). For Europe, check out Ryanair (www.ryanair.com), EasyJet (www.easy.com), and BMIbaby (www.bmibaby.com), which has been known to post fares as staggeringly low as $1.60.
Scan sites like Site59.com, Bid4Vacations.com, and SkyAuction.com (recent bid: $326 round-trip to Spain from several East Coast cities).
Nab an oft-discounted ticket to London, then fly a Euro-local airline.
Check Independent Traveler (www.independenttraveler.com) on Wednesday for weekend Web deals. Travelzoo (www.travelzoo.com) culls fares from 200 companies, then sends out a top-20 e-mail on Thursdays.
For European deals, try sites like ELT Express (www.flights.com), a discounter that includes consolidator tickets, and eBookers (www.ebookers.com), Europe's version of Expedia.
When booking, a simple "Is this the best rate you can offer?" can often net quick savings.
Check hotel Web sites for special deals. Starwood (www.starwood.com) recently offered a 50 percent discount to AAA members who booked three weeks in advance.
Browse Resort Quest (www.resortquest.com) and (World-Stay.com, which tracks more than 60,000 international hotels. EuroCheapo.com lists character-rich, well-located hotels in Europe.
Try auction sites like Priceline (www.priceline.com) or Hotwire (www.hotwire.com) for hotel rooms. One recent winning bid: $180 a night for a five-star hotel on the Champs Elysées with a front-row view of the Tour de France finish. BiddingForTravel.com and BetterBidding.com offer user tips.
Sol Melia (www.solmelia.com), a leading hotel company in Spain, Latin America, and the Caribbean, offers "Wednesday Web Weekends" charting specials, like $50-a-night four-star digs in Barcelona.
Off-season, consider renting an apartment, hacienda, or villa. Example: A Telluride Victorian that sleeps ten rents for $309 per night during the summer but $1,239 in winter.
Try Away.com, a partner with Outside that lists hundreds of trips worldwide, including many that are featured in the magazine. The Travel Deals section has discounts and last-minute airfare, hotel, and car-rental bargains.
If you're planning way ahead, request an early-booking discount. Some outfitters honor the previous year's prices until a certain date, or offer a 10 percent savings for being among the first to sign up.
Recruit your friends. Some outfitters comp one spot if you fill up the trip.
Traveling solo? Sign up more than two months in advance and some companies will guarantee you a roommate, saving you the sometimes steep extra fee as a single.
Adventure Center (www.adventurecenter.com) offers value trips like five days of snowshoeing in the Dolomites ($650) or 15 days of hiking in Turkey ($650).
UK-based Saddle Skedaddle Tours (www.skedaddle.co.uk) and Graham Baxter Sporting Tours (www.sportingtours.co.uk) offer great last-minute deals on biking trips, such as eight days of mountain biking in Greece's Parnitha Mountains for $1,005.